Morristown, N.J. (October 29, 2015) – With an engaging smile and non-stop enthusiasm Nikkalyn Lee '14 talks about wanting to go above and beyond. A Catholic priest, Fr. Christopher Hartley, asked her to join a Catholic mission in Ethiopia, near the Somali border, for ten weeks during the summer of 2015. Nikkalyn jumped at the opportunity.
Nikkalyn, of Maplewood, N.J., is a living example of what the College of Saint Elizabeth instills in its students in terms of wanting to make a difference in the world through education and service. Nikkalyn has a degree in psychology from CSE and is now enrolled in the CSE nursing program through Trinitas Hospital. It was her journey to this decision to go into nursing that is her story.
"I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone," says Nikkalyn. "I started out working in the Catholic camps teaching English to five and six-year-olds."
In the Gode section of Ethiopia was an overflow of soldiers from the fighting in the south. With war came prostitution, and from there, socially transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
After teaching in the camps, she began to shadow Sister Joachim, from the Order of the Sisters of Mercy, and worked in a clinic for women with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Her tasks were to help clean the patients and wash clothing and bedding. But Nikkalyn gave much more by sitting with the critically ill women, gently cleaning their wounds and speaking with them.
One of Sister Joachim's sisters started a program, the Tamara Project, to help lift the women out of selling their bodies to learning skills and becoming financially independent. In addition to learning handcrafts that would be sold, they also were educated about childcare and healthy lifestyles. Nikkalyn took care of the younger children while their mothers were in classes.
Nikkalyn pulled out a bag filled with little scraps of paper, all of which had writing on them. These were the medical records of 343 patients who came to a clinic in Kalafo.
"These scraps of paper were all we had," she explained. "I would ask the patients about their symptoms, then record them on any scrap I could find."
The symptoms ranged from rashes to joint pain to gastric distress, all common for that area. Medications were scarce and rationed to the neediest.
"People would wash their clothing in a river full of crocodiles," she says. "There were children splashing in the water as crocodile heads would pop up. This was their life and they accepted it."
In spite of the conditions that she witnessed, her faith deepened as did her knowledge of herself.
"I am no longer afraid to stand up for what I believe," she explains. "I don't want to be afraid to exhibit God's love for me and the world."
The experience also confirmed her goal of becoming a nurse with hopes of returning to Africa or another mission that helps the poor.
"I have to pay off some bills first, then I will follow whatever God's plan is for me."